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Church offers care of detainees

The Catholic Church would be happy to consider a partnership with the Federal Government for community care of detainee children, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said yesterday.

The church's care of the five released Bakhtiyari children could serve as a model for the alternative care of detained children, he said.

"My primary concern is for the welfare of these (Bakhtiyari) children," he said. "But we'd be delighted to look after more children.

"We'd have to find resources to manage it; we'd be looking for a partnership with the Government. We'd be happy to consider further opportunities."

Archbishop Wilson said that regardless of the Government's forthcoming High Court challenge to the Family Court's jurisdiction in detention matters, the Bakhtiyari children should not be returned to Baxter detention centre.

"I recognise and respect the right of the federal Government to defend its policies in the courts, just as I hope the federal Government respects the right of welfare agencies and detainee advocates to pursue their cause through the courts," he said yesterday, after meeting the children for the first time. "The children are quite happy," he said. "They're happy because they feel safe and protected."

The archbishop said he opposed detention of any children. "To incarcerate children in a detention centre with adults is just as bad as sending children into an adult prison."

It would be a "disaster" for the Bakhtiyari children to be removed from the freedom and care they were enjoying after their release 11 days ago.

The children, aged from six to 15, are under the care of the church's welfare agency, Centacare. They are living in a safe house with two Iranian women overseen by a case manager.

Their father Ali remains in detention at Baxter, 300km north of Adelaide. Their mother, Roqia, is under medical supervision in Adelaide awaiting the birth of her sixth child. The children visit her daily.

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Bishops welcome release of detention centre children (26/8/03)
Court orders children's release from detention centre (ABC Radio The World Today)
Children released, Ruddock rebuffed (The Age)

5 Sep 2003